The Chicago Bears filled in two pieces of their coaching staff on Wednesday morning with the hires of now former University of Tennessee passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach, Zach Azzanni, and als as reported by ESPN’s Adam Caplan, former University of Tennessee-Chattanooga defensive coordinator, Brandon Staley, to coach the outside linebackers. Both Azzanni and Staley will fill their roles in Chicago while making the jump from the college game to the NFL for the first time.
Azzanni’s previous stops include his stint with the Volunteers in his full-fledged offensive assistant role from 2013 to 2017, and as a wide receivers coach all around the college game at intermittent stops with Wisconsin, Florida, Central Michigan, and Bowling Green. He was also Western Kentucky’s offensive coordinator in 2011.
Current Ohio State coach and college football magnate, Urban Meyer, originally gave Azzanni the jump start to his coaching career at Bowling Green as a graduate assistant where Meyer became the head coach there in 2001. Meyer once had high praise of his former assistant, calling him a “tireless worker, relentless recruiter, and a great teacher of fundamentals,” way back in 2009.
How those traits and experience Azzanni possesses will translate in his first NFL opportunity remains to be seen.
As far as NFL prospects go, Azzanni does have impressive marks on his resume.
While at Central Michigan, he coached three-time First Team All-Pro Steelers wide receiver, Antonio Brown, for the duration of his college career. Under Azzanni, the 28-year-old Brown amassed 305 receptions, 3199 yards, and 22 touchdowns in three seasons. Brown was later drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft and has since become one of the league’s brightest stars.
Azzanni also has a connection to Indianapolis Colts tight end, Jack Doyle, from his time with Western Kentucky. As a freshman in the 2009 season Azzanni’s coordinator tutelage, Doyle had 37 receptions for 365 yards and a touchdown. Doyle is a potential pending unrestricted free agent that may hit the open market so this relationship could pay dividends for the Bears in acquiring quality tight end depth.
Former Bears wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson’s quick departure from Halas Hall to the New Orleans Saints after only one season and following January’s Senior Bowl, led Chicago to eventually hire Azzanni. He is the third coach for this position on the lakefront in the last five years after Johnson and Mike Groh, who went to the Los Angeles Rams prior to the 2016 season.
Azzanni has a lot of work to do with his group now considering the continual attempted development of Kevin White, the ascension of Cameron Meredith, and being potentially without his number one wide receiver, Alshon Jeffery, who has yet to be tagged or signed by Chicago.
On the other side, Staley has spent time with various places from John Carroll University, James Madison, to Tennessee and more. Staley brings a wealth of experience as a defensive coordinator, no matter his lack of exposure to the NFL. He will allow Bears incumbent defensive head man, Vic Fangio, to focus on his unit as a whole after the Chicago Sun Times reported Fangio would helm the outside linebackers in January.
Staley replaces Clint Hurtt of whom had been with the Bears for the last three seasons and departed for the Seattle Seahawks in mid-January after his contract expired. His primary responsibility will be to continue to oversee the crucial development of the promising Leonard Floyd and look to maximize veterans, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young, barring another talented addition in free agency and or the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft.
Update: The Bears have made each of these hirings official along with Derius Swinton being announced as the assistant special teams coach, which was reported several days earlier by Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. Swinton was previously the 49ers special teams coordinator last season.
All of these hirings come on the heels of the earlier additions of Jeremiah Washburn as offensive line coach after Dave Magazu was dismissed and Curtis Modkins as the man to lead the running backs after Stan Drayton left for Texas in the same role.
The Bears and head coach John Fox are finally putting their staff into place for the 2017 season as they near free agency, organized team activities, and the draft in April.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.